Preston North End put themselves within two games of Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy after victory over Notts County at Meadow Lane.
Paul Huntington’s 20th minute goal was enough to settle the northern area semi-final in their favour and they now face Walsall in a two-legged regional final - the first leg at Deepdale on January 6 and the return in the Midlands in early February.
Centre-half Huntington struck from close range after a corner from starman Kyel Reid was missed by Magpies keeper Roy Carroll.
It was his fifth goal in 13 games since returning to the side in October and he is now the club’s second highest scorer this term.
An open game saw plenty of chances at either end, County’s best opportunity for an equaliser seeing Haydn Hollis head against the bar, either side of Andy Little and Alan Browne clearing off the line in a scramble.
The win was an ideal birthday present for PNE manager Simon Grayson who turned 45 on Tuesday. Grayson had made five changes to the Lilywhites side.
Andy Little, Kyel Reid, Jack King, Josh Brownhill and Alan Browne came into the starting XI.
Chris Humphrey, Paul Gallagher and John Welsh moved to the bench, while Neil Kilkenny and Kevin Davies were rested ahead of the weekend trip to Peterborough.
North End lined-up in a 4-2-3-1 system, Browne and King in the holding midfield roles with Little, Brownhill and Reid spread across the pitch in front of them.
Jermaine Beckford was on the lone central striker, Brownhill getting forward to support him from the No.10 role.
With just 42 seconds on the clock, Tom Clarke made a fine sliding block to get in the way of a low shot from Michael Petrasso.
The PNE skipper had to do likewise a few minutes later, putting his body in the way of another Petrasso effort.
Steadily North End settled into the game, Brownhill twice testing Magpies goalkeeper Roy Carroll - a Preston trialist in the summer of 2011.
The first effort from Brownhill came from distance, his right-foot shot moving in the air and perhaps catching Carroll out a little, the keeper having to change direction to push ot away.
Brownhill tried his luck again from a bit closer in, this time Carroll parrying it behind for a corner.
North End went ahead in the 20th minute, a Reid centre from the left put behind by Taylor McKenzie.
Reid delivered the corner from the right, Carroll failed to gather it in the air and Huntington was there to bundle the ball over the line from close range.
County came back with a good spell of pressure, getting a few sights of the North End goal.
Blair Adams saw a shot on the turn go wide, while a Stephen McLaughlin effort drifted wide.
The lively Petrasso took a pass from Adams and came inside from the left, hitting a shot which flew across goal and wide of the back post.
There was a treble chance for the home side in the 33rd minute, with them seeing two efforts cleared off the line and another hit the bar in rapid-fire succession.
Mike Edwards had the first pop at goal, Little well positioned by the post to head it clear.
The ball looped to Haydn Hollis who sent a header against the bar, the rebound falling to McKenzie who was denied by Browne on the line.
At the other end, Beckford attempted a scissor kick which bounced into the turf and was cleared.
Former Leeds and Manchester United midfielder Alan Smith went into referee Nigel Miller’s notebook for a lunge on King - the yellow could easily have been red on another night.
With less than three minutes of the second half gone, a County attack was broken up and Reid broke forward along the right-wing.
He ignored Brownhill who was supporting inside, drove into the box and tried his luck with a shot at the near post which Carroll dived to parry.
The hosts’ Garry Thompson looped a header harmlessly over Thorsten Stuckmann’s bar after meeting a Gary Jones free-kick.
In the 56th minute, Browne’s neat pass played in Beckford behind the Magpies defence he but hardly made contact with his shot, allowing Carroll to gather.
Browne’s driving run then took him into the box and his shot was beaten out by the keeper.
County went close to an equaliser when Thompson’s flick-on played McLaughlin through on goal, his lob arching over Stuckmann but dropping inches wide of the target.
North End responded with a decent chance themselves, Little’s pass finding Browne in the box but the teenager struck a right-foot shot too high.
Grayson made his first substitution in the 75th minute, replacing Beckford with Humphrey.
That move saw Little switched up front, with Preston operating in a 4-1-4-1 formation - King playing in the deep anchor role.
PNE were able to see the game out without too many problems, defending solidly and breaking on the counter when the opportunity arose.
Notts County: Carroll, McKenzie (Murray 60), Edwards, Hollis, C Thompson, Smith, Jones, McLaughlin, Adams (Hall 75), G Thompson, Petrasso. Subs not used: Traore, Harrad, Pilkington.
Booked: Smith 35, G Thompson 74, Hall 85
PNE: Stuckmann, Wiseman, Clarke, Huntington, Laird, King, Browne, Little, Brownhill, Reid, Beckford (Humphrey 75). Subs not used: Gallagher, Woods, Welsh, Jones.
Booked: Little 90
Referee: Nigel Miller (Co Durham)
Attendance: 2,058 (265 PNE)